In 1906 Sorolla launched his international career with a show at the prestigious Galérie George Petit in Paris. With the assistance of his friend and fellow painter Pedro Gil Moreno de Mora (see lot ), he undertook this exhibition which was his first one man show abroad. The exhibition received critical acclaim, and Sorolla was invited to exhibit the following year in Germany.
In the Autumn of 1906 his eldest daughter Maria became sick with tuberculosis and Sorolla decided to remain near her and to paint instead in Toledo, Segovia and El Pardo. When her health improved in 1907, Sorolla moved to La Granja de San Ildefonso where he painted several paintings of the gardens and portraits in the open air of his family and members of the Royal Family who resided there. In 1907 Sorolla also had one man exhibitions in Berlin, Dusseldorf and Cologne but he declined to attend in person, preferring to remain by his daughter's side as she recovered. These shows were very well received and Sorolla sold many of his paintings. At the end of 1907, after a long absence from the sea, Sorolla decided to travel to Valencia to work on new paintings for his next exhibition which was to take place in London in 1908.
Sorolla wrote to his wife, "I have a hunger to paint that I have never felt before, it swallows me, overpowers me, it is an obsession..." Encouraged by his success, 1908 was one of his more prolific years. In the first months of the year he ventured to Seville to paint a portrait of the Queen and later he went to London to preside over his exhibition. While the London exhibition may not have sold as many paintings as Sorolla had anticipated, it was significant in that it made possible the meeting between Sorolla and the American collector, Archer Milton Huntington. Huntington was the founder and President of the newly established Hispanic Society of America. He was immediately drawn to the work of the Spanish master and undertook to promote Sorolla in America. Sorolla was equally excited by the opportunity and returned to Valencia for the summer of 1908 to paint. During these months he painted close to sixty-four pictures, including many of his most beautiful beach scenes which were intended to be sent to his New York exhibition.
The palette that Sorolla utilized during this time is brilliant. Although more somber than his earlier works, his paintings are done with larger brushstrokes and each time the work becomes more spontaneous. A la Orilla del Mar is without a doubt painted in Valencia where nature had the greatest influence on Sorolla. It is a charming scene depicting the daily life of the Valencian seashore. A fishwife is shown entertaining her young son by the seashore as they wait for the return of the fishing boats. Sorolla's first working of the composition depicted the mother and child in a smaller format. He subsequently seamed a second canvas to the top portion of the picture thereby allowing him to expand the composition and to depict the beautiful sea and sky above the figures. By raising the horizon line, Sorolla gives the painting greater depth. The whites of the waves and the subtle tonal variations of the sea invigorate the composition and give greater poignancy to the tender gesture between mother and child. Perez de Ayala, referring to Sorolla's painting at this time, wrote: "No other artist was able to so successfully reveal to us the subtlties of increasing values of light and to capture the truth of life."
A la Orilla del Mar was exhibited in New York at Sorolla's inaugural exhbition at the Hispanic Society of America in 1909, and later traveled to Buffalo and Boston (see fig 1). The show was a hugh success for Sorolla who sold nearly two hundred of the three hundred fifty-six canvases he had sent, and was attended by 159,831 people in New York alone. A la Orilla del Mar was purchased by the American collector and philanthropist Genevieve Garvan Brady for the large sum of $2,400. Among her numerous accolades, Genevieve Garvan Brady was President of the National Girl Scouts and a Papal Duchess. The majority of her Collection was sold in a five day auction at her Manhasset, Long Island estate Inisfada in May 1937, but this painting hung at her residence in New York and remained with the family.
We are grateful to Blanca Pons-Sorolla for her assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.